Darren Aronofsky has a tendency to direct and write disturbing (Black Swan), polarising (The Fountain) and controversial (Requiem for Dream) films, but mother! may just be the ultimate amalgamation of all of the above.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as a housebound wife and Javier Bardem as her playwright husband. They live in a solitary old house, and are visited by strangers who immediately take up residence. That’s pretty much the whole first act. While there is a sense of impending doom, it starts to become rather tedious as we follow the subservient Lawrence pottering around the house after the guests, with only more questions thrown at us.
As for the second act, without digging into spoiler territory, expect more repetition and absurdity with a faint glimmer of hope that everything will be explained. By the third act, this hope is extinguished. There’s no longer a narrative structure, instead just a bunch of things happening in quick succession with one of the most jarring and unannounced cameos since Matt Damon popped up in Interstellar .
You can certainly tell that the script was written in five days, feeling more like a film student’s first experimental project where everything has another meaning rather than a genuinely intriguing psychological horror by a world-renowned director. Much has been made of the ‘F’ that mother! received on CinemaScore from the public, and while this has a lot to do with the mismarketing of the movie – selling it as a generic thriller – it may simply be that it just does not satisfy your average moviegoer.
When Aronofsky makes a film which he admits he wants an audience to talk about, you have to question how much of the film ends up being polarising for the sake of it. Frustratingly, what Aronofsky wanted us to talk about – the allegorical meaning, which he explained in an interview instead of allowing people to interpret for themselves – is more interesting than anything in the film. While the performances are fine – Lawrence transforming from meek to hysterical throughout and Bardem providing a mysterious and sinister presence – being told exactly what the film means is incredibly patronising and ultimately feels like a very self-indulgent effort from Aronofsky.
While this wave of critical division seems to almost be working in mother!’s favour, giving it some undeserved attention – because after all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity – making a film with the intention of creating discussion by any means rather than seeking to make a good film is frankly poor film-making.